The fight for women’s rights in America

The X Factor: Art and the Gender Frontier

Funny how just one little randomly determined chromosome can play such a heavy role for the entirety of someone’s life. XY for males, XX for females. Yup, I’m talking sex chromosomes and the gender frontier.

There’s a long history of women’s oppression and fighting the patriarchy, and while some can say that women’s rights have immensely progressed, has it really? It’s kind of scary to realize that women only gained the right to vote in America less than a century ago — and the nineteenth amendment didn’t even cover all women, it excluded those of African American descent. It’s crazy to conceive the notion that there is a number of people who are alive today, a very limited number albeit, who lived in an America in which women were not allowed to vote.

Furthermore, there’s even evidence to support the claim that women had more control over their own bodies in the eighteenth century than they do now. While the approval for the birth control pill to be used for contraceptive purposes in 1960 did liberate female sexuality and masturbation from being a taboo topic, it put the female body under the scrutiny and control of the government. Throughout the eighteenth century, abortion and fertility was a woman dominated field of knowledge. Women were in more control of their bodies because this science was largely run by women. It was in the nineteenth century, however, when men became increasingly involved in the science of fertility and contraception. While contraceptive technology and women’s rights have come a long way since the eighteenth century, eighteenth century women had a lot more power regarding contraception and fertility in comparison to men than present day women. In regards to the recent defunding of Planned Parenthood, the government has even taken it upon itself to take away a woman’s choice as to what to do with her own body.

Ana Mendieta

I think one of the best ways to see this oppression is by representations in art by women artists such as Cuban artist Ana Mendieta. Mendieta moved to America at the age of 14. Seen as a person of color as well as a female, she faced traumatic gendered racism. Much of her works used her nude body or the nude body of another female of color. Her art works during her college years focused on blood and violence towards women, sparked from the rape and murder of a fellow student. In one of her installations, Mendieta tied herself to a table and covered herself with cow’s blood, remaining motionless for two hours to replicate the murder. Those who came to see it became the “witnesses” to this “murder.” By replicating and truly representing the grotesqueness and violence of rape to the body, she is able to share this horrific event with those who have never had to experience it.

“Untitled (Rape Scene)” by Ana Mendieta, 1973

Lastly, I’d like to ask what does it mean to be a woman? According to Simone de Beauvoir, “one is not born a woman, one becomes one.” As of late, society has been shifting towards the idea of gender being a non binary spectrum. That brings about the question, what is the significance or meaning of gender? Is there one? Or is gender an imitation of something for which there is no original - simply a social construct? And if so, what are the implications of this?